Gearing Up for the Race

Decked out in my warm gear at the Alaska State Snow Sculpture Championship in Anchorage. Photo Credit: Jane Holmes

When my friends, family, coworkers, and students heard I’d be in Alaska for a month they were very concerned about the cold. “Do you have the right gear?” they asked. Luckily, I’m outfitted with the perfect gear for the trail! I have amazing boots, which make me about 3 inches taller thanks to the incredible insulation keeping my feet away from the cold ground. My base layers are warm, my gloves toasty, and snowpants sturdy. I have two hats – one with my district logo and one knit by my oldest daughter. The star of my gear is the parka – it is practical but also pretty. My personal Iditarod patch and the official Teacher on the Trail patch are on the front. On the back I have a varsity letter from my district, and the patches for 2022 and 2023 Iditarod. All the excitement around my gear made me think about what the mushers need to run Iditarod and the gear they are required to take on the trail.

A practice run packing my Trail bag to make sure it all fits! Photo Credit: J. Westrich

Item 16 of the official Iditarod rules lists the required items mushers must have on their sled.  Some of the items are the same as the ones I’ll be bringing on the Trail – like a “proper cold weather sleeping bag.” Most items however, are specific to the safety and health of the musher and dogs during the race. Items like an ax, snowshoes, and a cooker with pot and heat to boil water provide support for mushers. Extra dog booties and insulated dog coats must be in the sled so the dogs will have appropriate warm weather gear. Another required item is the vet notebook – which is presented at each checkpoint to the vet team – ensuring that the dog care on the trail is a top priority.  Extra emergency food makes sure that hungry dogs will always have what they need to camp on the trail should they break between checkpoints.  

Will Meredith Mapes fit all this Gear into her Lighter Sled? Photo Credit: Terrie Hanke

It seems like a lot of gear, right?  Each item has a purpose and because they’re mandatory the basic weight in the sled is equitable and fair. One final item needs to be in the sled – a packet of Trail Mail. The history of the Iditarod Trail has roots in the old mail routes across the state that were used by US Postal Service dog sleds. To honor this history mushers carry mail from the Restart to the Finish in Nome. The Trail Mail project kicks off in September so be sure to sign up for the IditarodEDU Newsletter for updates, registration, and due dates!

Dallas Seavey signing Trail Mail. Photo Credit: Jen Reiter

My mandatory gear includes a notebook, computer, and camera so I can document everything I see, hear, smell, and taste on the trail – and report it all back to you!  Every adventure requires the right tools and I’m much more comfortable taking snap-shots than strapping on snowshoes. 

Library Learnings: Mushers sign the Trail Mail envelopes, and once it reaches Nome the letter is returned to the original sender with the autograph of the musher who carried it across the entire Iditarod Trail on the outside. 

QUESTION: Each year a new design is selected for the Trail Mail envelope. Who created the art for the 2023 Iditarod Trail Mail envelope?  For a hint and more information click HERE.

ANSWER for Feb 28: Husky Talk is the amazing Iditarod podcast from the students at Camanche Middle School in Camanche, Iowa. Now in it’s 6th season you can download it anywhere you get podcasts to hear interviews with greats like Dee Dee Jonrowe, Martin Buser, and more!